Q&A with Don Schultz at Northwestern University

Combine "content, delivery, brands, and audience"

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BEIJING--At the third annual Ad:tech conference in China, which took place Oct. 16-17 in Beijing, the star of the event wasn't a marketer, a digital agency or even one of China's dot-com celebrities. It was Don Schultz, a retired journalism professor from the U.S. who has never lived in China. Unlikely as that sounds, many of the industry's high-flyers flocked to hear what Mr. Schultz has to say.

Unfortunately, his advice to the 1,000-strong Ad:tech crowd this year was “really depressing,” said Kaiser Kuo, group director of Ogilvy & Mather's digital strategy in China and one of China's most active digital marketing bloggers.

During a rousing speech as well as a closing keynote panel discussion at Ad:tech, Mr. Schultz warned digital marketers, “Consumers don't want to be bothered by ads, but don't look to the West for answers. We don't have a clue and models in the U.S. aren't right for China. They don't work now and will never work. We can't deal with consumer multi-tasking and the synergies of multimedia.”

While the ad agencies working for multinational brands remain split into categories like media planning, creative, public relations, and direct marketing, “consumers are using media simultaneously; it's not either or, it's both, and we have a hard time dealing with that. They watch TV, surf online, play games and talk on cell phones all at the same time,” said Mr. Schultz, who is professor-emeritus of integrated marketing communications at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Chicago and a visiting professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

The same is true in China, but Chinese consumers use media differently and are influenced by different factors.

“Asian and western thought patterns are different. Asians have a holistic view of the world, relationships and contexts are important and there are few external influences. Western cultures are the opposite. Going back to the Greeks, they have an atomistic view of the world and emphasize contrast and categorizations.”

What does that mean for marketers? “They should focus on media consumption and distribution and learn how consumers use media. If no one sees great creative thoughts, the work doesn't matter. So they should start with media forms, not with messages. They need to start with a media consumption model.”

They also need to understand holistic marketing programs, and realize the harm that can happen to brands “when companies send customer service to India and tech support to Bulgaria, losing control of those consumer experiences. It comes down to four elements--content, delivery, brands, and audience. How these are mixed together is critical to successful marketing.”

Mr. Schultz's comments were a “refreshing wake-up call, a shocking perspective on our need to adjust to a different media environment in China, where 31 forms of media are now used by Chinese consumers. Clearly, we don't understand them all. We think of them as different channels to get out the same message,” said Mr. Kuo.

“Consumers are bombarded by different forms of media on an epidemic scale and have more choices than ever about what messages they receive. They have become very good at putting up barriers to stop me and you. We have to craft a different message communication strategy altogether.”

After his Ad:tech presentation, Mr. Schultz spoke with AdAgeChina Editor Normandy Madden.

AdAgeChina: You warned marketers in China not to look to the West for advice but you pointed out many similarities between U.S. and Chinese consumers. Both are multitasking while using multimedia. So why wouldn't Western marketing strategies work in China?

Don Schultz: They are multitasking the same way but not for the same reasons. Take social networking sites. They are very different in China, where the first major group of people online are the only children of only children. They're looking for social interaction much more than kids in the U.S.

They also use technology in different ways. SMS [text messages sent by mobile phones] are huge in China as well as South Korea and Japan. In China, the telephone is a data machine but that's not the case in the U.S., where the telephone is still a voice machine, texting is expensive and the whole platform is based on voice and data remains very computer-oriented.

AdAgeChina: How do marketers in China compare to their counterparts in the U.S.?

Mr. Schultz: They do more experimentation and we're seeing in China the development of a radically different view of what online is all about.

AdAgeChina: Which marketers in China have been successful so far at cracking digital marketing?

Mr. Schultz: No one is doing a good job. They were all educated primarily in an outbound mass-market distribution model. Everything is judged according to television and everyone thinks online is just another type of outbound media. But digital marketing gives consumers the ability to access information when they want it. Not many people talk like that. Instead their discussions are about engagement, which assumes marketers are in control of the process. That approach doesn't make sense if you realize the consumer is in control and they decide what they want from marketers and when, how and where they interact with their brands.

AdAgeChina: What should marketers be doing instead?

Mr. Schultz: If you start with the consumer and learn how they behave, you shouldn't be pulling a clip out of a TV spot to run online. You don't choose creative and then figure out how to apply it online. You start with where and how you should be advertising and then craft the message appropriately.
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